On the night when the church assigns nine readings for the liturgy of the word, it might seem extreme for me to add one more, but I really think that in order to get the full sense of what is being spoken to us tonight through God's word, it's important to listen to the very beginning verses of the letter to the Hebrews: "God has spoken in the past to our ancestors, through the prophets, in many different ways, although never completely. But in our times, God has spoken definitively to us through God's son Jesus. Jesus is the radiance of God's glory and bears the stamp of God's hidden being."
The Peace Pulpit
Editor's Note: If you are looking for a Good Friday meditation starter, you can't go wrong with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's reflection on the Passion of Christ:
In John's gospel, Jesus does that very thing. Dramatically, he takes off his outer garment, puts a towel around himself, and then goes before each disciple and like a slave, Jesus washes their feet. What an extraordinary example, and yet how many of us have really listened to these words, listened to what Jesus does and watched him in action so that we can follow?
Read the full reflection: Jesus teaches us how to die, not how to kill
Certainly with the reading of the Passion of our Lord as we've just done in this Gospel of St. Luke, there are very, very many things for us to reflect upon. I think that we really ought to do what is proclaimed to us by the prophet in our first lesson, where the prophet says, "God has taught me so I speak as God's disciple. Morning after morning, God wakes me up to hear, to listen like a disciple. God has opened my ears."
To reflect on today's reading, I think it's very helpful if we remind ourselves of last Sunday's reading, because what we are hearing today is really a continuation of what God proclaimed to us last week in an attempt to help us to know more deeply who God is and how God relates to us, and how we relate to one another.
To delve deeply into the scripture lessons today, to hear them deep within our hearts, I think it's very important and really the key to understanding these lessons, to listen very carefully to that very first sentence that St. Paul proclaims in our second lesson: "Brothers and sisters, whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come."
If we listen carefully to the scriptures today, especially the gospel, we are enabled to do something really quite extraordinary, to really enter into the very thinking of Jesus. Into his prayer life. Into his struggle. To understand this, how this happens if we listen, we should remind ourselves of last Sunday's gospel, which was as it always is on the first Sunday of Lent, an account of the temptations of Jesus, where the devil is trying to get Jesus to turn away from what God has asked him to do. At the end of those three temptations, Luke in the Gospel says, "And the devil left him for a time." This implies that Jesus was going to continue to be tempted, just as we are. He was fully human, so temptations would possibly come back into his life.
As we begin our reflection on the word of God today, I think it's important for us to remind ourselves of why we have this season of Lent, this period of 40 days of prayer and fasting.
Most of us are very familiar with the beatitudes as they are proclaimed in Matthew's gospel. The first beatitude especially seems to be an easier way of hearing what Jesus is saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the reign of God." But Luke simply says, "Blessed are the poor," the poor -- those who are without, "theirs is the reign of God." Matthew also does not give the four woes as Luke does, "Woe to those who are rich." When we hear those words proclaimed by Jesus, I think it makes all of us a bit uncomfortable because we know that we have so many blessings.
So we really wonder, I think, well, for many reasons about these words of Jesus, but especially about "Blessed are the poor." How could Jesus say that in a world where we confront, if we have any awareness at all, an extreme degree of absolute poverty for over a billion people on our planet? Absolute poverty means they have nothing. They're living in misery, desolation. What word can you use to describe that situation for those who are absolutely poor? How can Jesus say they are blessed?
A couple of weeks ago, you may recall the gospel lesson told us about what happened after Jesus had spent the six weeks of prayer and solitude in the desert. He came back into Nazareth where he had grown up. He went into the synagogue. Remember, he was given the book to read and he unrolled the scroll to the book of the Prophet Isaiah, where it is written those powerful words that Jesus read, "The spirit of God is upon me. God will send me to proclaim good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim God's year of jubilee."
As we listen to the first lesson this morning, I think perhaps we might not have really perceived the genius and the wisdom of Nehemiah and Ezra the priest. They were situated at a time when the chosen people had been dispersed, scattered, the unity of the nation was destroyed. They had been taken into a very difficult kind of exile. Many had betrayed their commitment to God that had been made, that covenant that had been made by God whereby God became their God and they were God's people. Now they had come back, found everything destroyed and over a period of years, they were trying to come together again, to rebuild their city, rebuild their temple, but most of all to rebuild themselves as a people.